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31 Oct, 2011 05:06

Eurocrisis relay baton – Portugal’s next

The Eurozone may have heaved a sigh of relief with a new deal reached to help Greece, but the crisis is far from over. Portugal reportedly wants to renegotiate the terms of the bailout it received earlier this year.

“No jobs”, “No money”, “No chance for the future.” These are the messages that Portugal’s striking teachers are trying to get across. “They can never have stability in a school, even if they are working for 10, 15, 20 years – they are always earning the same sum of money and cannot have a stable place in school. It is a political choice of financial cuts in education, in health, in social security, and we think it is wrong,” says teacher Miquel Reis.Like legendary Atlantis, Portugal seems to be sinking deeper into an economic abyss. What started off as a purely financial crisis is turning into a malevolent force which threatens to rob the Portuguese of their basic human rights.Earlier this year, Portugal got an emergency bailout from the EU to deal with its gargantuan debt – the third country to do so after Greece and Ireland. But for some, the 78-billion-euro bill is too high a price to pay.  The austerity cuts go well beyond the classroom and strike at some of Portuguese society's fundamental principles – like access to justice.“The government is not paying the lawyers who provide free public legal services, and there are some who have been doing it for free for years,” says Dr. Marinho e Pinto, president of the Portuguese Bar Association. “Courts cannot be reduced to economic entities to solve problems of large corporations, but must play the role of providing legal services for citizens and promoting social peace,” he explains. And as if cutting corners in education and the legal system were not enough, the government's measures are hitting the Portuguese where it hurts the most – in their healthcare.“The government in Portugal asks us ‘What is your capacity?’ and we say, for instance, ‘20,000 surgeries per year.’ But the government must finance us to make those surgeries,” Manual Lemos from the Portuguese Union of Charities told RT. “So in the practical sense, in the end there will be a waiting list and there will be lots of people who will suffer – a lot more, because we know that at the same time, with the cuts, even the public sector in health will reduce its normal activity,” Lemos explains. And it is more pain, no gain – austerity is failing to stop Portugal's economy plummeting this quarter, with the poor in the front line.“The prime minister has said that he wants to keep low-income families away from the cuts. But I am not really sure that is possible. Portugal now has a really big budget problem – it needs money, and it needs it now. So they are going to have to cut big-time,” predicts Carla Canivete, economy reporter from Portugal Daily News.Services slashed, taxes hiked – but Portugal is still on course to have a worse debt ratio than Greece – that is startling enough. But for the people trying to survive their stagnating economy, the disaster is already here.